Start your own private art collection

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Stylist Team
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Stylist's guide to starting your own private collection

Words: Jackie Hunter

Above: Noma Bar, Birdland, edition of 25 signed and numbered by the artist, £350

Art collectors have cultural credentials and big bank accounts, right? Well, no, actually. For all its perceived elitism, owning original art is easier than ever, with works by Tracey Emin going for £150 and, incredibly, the occasional Picasso or Matisse costing less than £500. The past decade has witnessed an art explosion and now the cultural world wouldn’t turn without art fairs, websites and pop-ups. Similarly, the new generation of giant galleries, from London’s Tate Modern to Gateshead’s Baltic, maintain their credibility, while smaller venues such as Hastings’ Jerwood Gallery and Blain|Southern in London bulge with emerging talent.

Above: Tracey Emin, HRH, 2012, edition of 200. Signed by the artist, £325. £25 from the sale of each limited edition print will be donated to the Tracey Emin library, Forest High School, Kikandwa, Uganda

Visiting galleries is now recreational in a way it wasn’t for our parents: “It’s part of the democratisation of art, realising it’s there for everyone,” says Edith Devaney, senior curator at London’s Royal Academy. “If you’re interested, the logical next step is to start collecting for yourself.” And now we all can, because more artists such as David Hockney, Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas are creating perfect entry-level pieces that have an element of exclusivity, but don’t require a second mortgage.

The art world can seem intimidating, but, “It’s about familiarity,” says Katharine Stout, ICA’s head of programmes. Magazines such as The British Art Journal and Art Monthly, sites such as or, and auction houses such as Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonhams will introduce you to the latest news and trends so you instantly have a basic knowledge.

Above: Nick Knight, Black Rose, 1993, edition of 30, £1,000 plus VAT @Nick Knight courtesy of the artist

Once you’ve established a budget, decide on your medium. “Right now, artists are going back to skilled work, less about concept and more about technique and the craftsmanship involved in painting or ceramics,” says Romy Westwood, director of the Affordable Art Fair.

“You’re unlikely to buy a single object and make a lot of money,” warns Professor Jo Stockham at the Royal College of Art. But do buy from a trusted source to ensure what you have is authentic. Elizabeth Neilson, director of the Zabludowicz Collection, admits some online sites are a concern. “But,” she adds, “there are good ones, such as”

So whether you decide to spend £50 or £5,000, you can become a collector. Read on for how to take that first step.

Under £100

Above: Noma Bar, Pointed Sense open cut out, £85,

The ICA has limited edition prints for £100 or less. Katharine Stout of the ICA says, “Our Edition prints represent cutting-edge artists [such as Peter Coffin and Phil Collins]. With a gallery edition, you know that artist already has some repute and it’s high-quality.” Professor Jo Stockham at the Royal College of Art recommends the RCA Secret (every Spring,, where artists produce postcard-sized originals for a week-long exhibition. Every piece is £45 and you won’t discover who’s signed it until you’ve paid for it – you could own a David Bailey or Zaha Hadid. And keep an eye out for artists gaining a cult following, such as Noma Bar – his cutouts are £85 from Outline Editions (outlineeditions., while Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery has prints at or under £100 by the likes of Tania Kovats and Christine Borland.

Under £200

This budget is where you’ll pick up interesting finds from big names. “Most smaller-scale public galleries have an affordable print-editions scheme,” says Stout, “including the Whitechapel Gallery in east London.” There, a 10-metre-long wallpaper roll of Sarah Lucas’ iconic print Tits In Space is one of an edition of 185 and is currently priced at £195 (edition prints increase in price as they start to sell out, but there’s a discount for gallery members; whitechapel Elizabeth Neilson, director of the Zabludowicz Collection also recommends trawling studio galleries for emerging artists working across a variety of media, such as Space in east London, whose SHS summer exhibition continues until July 14; the nearby Cell Project Space; Studio Voltaire in south London; The Modern Institute in Glasgow, and F1 Masterprint in Sheffield. Look out, too, for art studio complexes, such as Vyner Street Gallery in east London, which has galleries and pop-ups where the artists show work across all mediums – they’re likely to be at the beginning of their careers and their prices accessible.

Under £500

Above: Tracey Emin, Taken To Another Place, limited edition print, 2011. Edition of 200, £250

Video art is an affordable way in, says Neilson. “Think about how wonderful flat-screen technology is – you can show a unique artwork on your TV.” For something traditional, London’s Zabludowicz Collection, which focuses on artists’ work a couple of years after graduation, offers a lot of choice for less than £500. Top current picks include Painting Lessons, a unique printed canvas by Alban Hajdinaj, part of a limited edition of 21, for £440; and Damien Roach’s edgy, Untitled silkscreen print, in an edition of 25, at £385 (

And it’s worth exploring the Emin International site for edition prints starting at £250 ( An original oil on canvas is also a possibility at the annual Affordable Art Fairs in London and Bristol. “Gallery owners are happy to give information about the artists, investing and advice on whose work is increasing in value,” says Romy Westwood, director of the Affordable Art Fair. “Sacha Jafri started out here, selling works at around £1,000 – now his small pieces go for around £25,000.”

Under £1,000

Head down to the annual Art Car Boot Fair every June in London’s Brick Lane. The 10-year-old institution asks revered artists including Mat Collishaw and Sir Peter Blake to produce unique artworks, with nothing costing more than £1,000. Next, head to Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery, which sells limitededition works by the likes of Martin Boyce, the 2011 Turner Prize winner, and photographic editions by Cornelia Parker. Back in the capital, try the RCA Graduate Show in June, where collectors scout for future talent – Jake and Dinos Chapman and Bridget Riley are alumni. Other art college shows include Central Saint Martins, Camberwell, Chelsea and Goldsmiths. The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition (10 June – 18 August) is a rich source at this price level. “When you buy at graduate shows and fairs, it’s about taking a punt,” says Stout. So buy something you genuinely like, above all else.

Under £2,500

Above: Martin Parr GB, England, Southwold, 1993, edition of 25, £1,000 + VAT @Martin Parr, courtesy of the artist

It takes time to explore the RA’s Summer Exhibition’s 1,200 works, but, “it’s a comfortable environment, as there’s no pressure-selling,” says Edith Devaney, of London’s Royal Academy. Big-name works include Tracey Emin’s tiny bronze sculpture of her cat, Docket In My Hand, in an edition of 100, £1,800; and Sir Quentin Blake’s Girl And Dogs 3, £1,800 ( The Photographer’s Gallery in London has a rare edition print of fashion photographer Nick Knight’s 1993 still-life Black Rose, and edition prints of Martin Parr’s 1993 shot GB, Southwold, both under £1,200 ( At the RCA graduate show, “you’ll have a choice of different mediums, though perhaps not sculpture,” says Stockham. And visit CCA Galleries in Surrey for one of the world’s largest collections of edition prints and work by artists such as Rob Ryan.

Under £5,000

This price bracket is gallery and auction territory. Edinburgh’s Ingleby Gallery has editions by high-profile names like Antony Gormley and Harland Miller. Frances Christie, head of British art at Sotheby’s in London, says we’re all missing a trick if we feel too intimidated to buy at auction: “It’s theatrical and exciting, like a live performance.” And don’t be frightened by prices: its Modern & Post-War British Art auction on 11-12 July includes a Dame Elisabeth Frink sculpture and a drawing by LS Lowry, both estimated at under £5,000 (; earlier this year it auctioned a David Hockney painting estimated at far more than £3 million, but the Affordable Art Fair 2013 included David Hockneys for under £4,000. (So don’t assume a piece by one of the greats is out of your reach.) If you have the money, love the work, and are sure of its credentials, what’s stopping you? Every collection starts somewhere; it just takes one piece.